There are a lot of publicly available facts out there for beginner investors, and a host of data points provided by big-time investment banks that you can use in your research.
As long as we are piggybacking on the hard work of those Wall Street insiders, why not cut right to the chase and find out exactly what stocks they like and which ones they dislike?
Frankly, these folks are really not all that much smarter than you and me, as I said at the onset of this book. So remember that these opinions are just validation of your thesis — not the final word on where a stock will go.
But it’s worth noting what these Wall Streeters think all the same, just as an added level of fact-checking.
It’s also worth noting that the experts themselves often disagree. But this too can be a plus. By taking even the most pessimistic of Wall Street opinions, you bake in a level of safety to your analysis.
Let me show you what I mean.
What’s the Mean and Median Price Target?
Let’s turn again to a company quote page in Yahoo! Finance, and this time the “Analyst Opinion” portion. You’ll find the mean target and the median target here.
If you can’t remember your high school math, the mean is the average and the median is the figure in the middle of the estimates.
For instance, let’s say a stock has five analysts who set price targets of $40, $45, $50, $55 and $75. The mean, or average, is $53 (add up the sums to get $265, then divide by 5), but the median is $50.
Generally speaking, the purpose of picking the median target is to exclude an outlier. Sometimes, the difference is negligible. Take McDonald’s, where the mean ($107.77) and median ($108) are right on top of each other. That’s because there are 22 analysts, and all targets fall between a low estimate of $95 and the high of $115 — a mere $20 range for the lot of them.
Take a very different restaurant stock like Chipotle (NYSE:CMG), however, which is a smaller company in growth mode, and you’ll see a much different range — from as low as $260 to as high as $450 a share! The mean, or average, is $383.50 for Chipotle — but as you can see, the outlier on the downside is dragging that average down. The median target is actually $400 a share.
It’s important to understand that one overly optimistic or one overly pessimistic call can really skew the average, or “mean.” That’s why for the most part you want to follow “median” figures but should always take note of the disparity between the two as a sign of how much in agreement (or disagreement) the analyst community is on a given stock.
Play it Safe: Be a Pessimist
To be on the safe side I would actually recommend always using the worst-case scenario estimate, and basing your analysis on the lower of the two figures. And if you really want to be rigorous, take the lowest target of all — since the absolute low estimate is explicity listed for you.
You might be surprised to find that for some stocks, every single analyst is expecting upside from here. That’s not a guarantee of gains, of course, but it’s certainly attractive. Take the aforementioned McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) estimates, where the lowest call on record is $95 — less that $2 under current pricing. That’s not a guarantee MCD stock won’t ever go lower than $95 … but it’s certainly a plus to see that’s the lowest of the Wall Street targets.
It’s also worth noting that this data in Yahoo! Finance is culled from months of analyst ratings. So check the timeline below to see if there are any upgrades or downgrades in the past few weeks. Take this image of Chipotle’s upgrades/downgrades – showing that most of the recent moves have been positive in nature. That could indicate that someone set a price target months ago but hasn’t revised it up yet. The reverse also holds true for stocks – if there are a spate of downgrades, it may indicate that recent news has significantly altered forecasts and the targets could begin creeping downwards soon.
Always guard against investing based on stale analysis. Place precedent on the most recent ratings.
And, of course, check to make sure there are more than just three or four analysts weighing in. The average of a small group is no better than a shot in the dark.
Play it Even Safer: Be Current
For yet another level of research, visit the website Briefing.com. In the top right, you’ll see a “Search” tab — click on this then enter your ticker symbol.
You’ll be prompted to register your email address somewhere along the way – but trust me, it’s worth it. Go ahead and do that, and then you’ll have access to an in-depth timeline that shows the very latest upgrades and downgrades, along with price targets.
All it costs you is your e-mail address, and as a frugal investor that’s a very reasonable price to pay.
OK, so you’re in. Let’s look again at Chipotle since the estimates are so disparate. Recently Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) analysts reiterated (that’s “reits”) their “buy” recommendation. That’s good news. But more importantly, you’ll see they moved up their target from $400 to $430 on CMG shares. That’s a significant bump — and a very good sign. It’s also the most current move on record, and thus should be given priority above older ratings on the stock.
After all, until recently Deutsche Bank was expecting $400. Who’s to say that some other investment banks currently forecasting $400 per share won’t revise their targets up soon, too?
The trickiest part of Briefing.com is the jargon. “Buy” is straightforward, as is “Sell.” But other phrasings aren’t so clear. Each investment bank has its own odd terminology.
A “hold” for instance, isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t necessarily a good thing, either. So the actual target itself is more important than a middling rating in this case.
Same for “sector perform.” Clearly the good stocks will be rated “outperform,” and the bad stocks “underperform.” But is the sector good or bad? After all, if tech is booming, then performing with the rest of the sector isn’t all that bad. Your details will be in the target itself once again.
Most confusing are recommendations on weighting for a given stock. You also might see “overweight” recommendations from time to time, and that’s actually good news. It’s jargon for saying that in the firm’s current portfolio, it is investing more money in this stock than in its peers, or that it is “overweight” in this company – which means the firm likes it. If the firm is neutral on a stock, it will be rated “equal weight” since it’s just another position but nothing special.
Briefing.com’s terminology can be confusing, but it gives you a great look at the most recent ratings and upgrades/downgrades. This is perhaps even more valuable than a comprehensive look at a few dozen analyst calls and the average target, since on Wall Street, the most recent data is by far the most relevant.
And the best thing for cheapskate investors is that this is another 100% free resource for you
Check out a complete list of Investing 101 articles by Jeff Reeves for more on learning how to invest and pick stocks.
Also, for just 99 cents you can download Jeff’s e-book “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks: 11 Free Resources to Help Beginners Identify Fantastic Investments.”
You can also buy a printed copy of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide” for $15.10 via online publisher Lulu.